Why do we often treat ourselves in ways that we’d never behave towards others? And what would it take to bring more compassion to ourselves?
Plato has famously said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
This wise perception also applies to ourselves. Each of us has faced betrayals, adversities, and losses — and sadly, more difficulties probably lie ahead. Life would be less stressful and more fulfilling as we learn the art of self-compassion.
Why is Self-Compassion So Difficult?
We may have internalized the message that we don’t deserve happiness. Perhaps we grew up with neglect or abuse rather than receiving the consistent message that children need: we have worth and value — and we are loved. An attachment injury may make it difficult to feel safely connected with ourselves and others
Self-compassion is also difficult if we cling to memories of our failures or the hurtful things we’ve done when we were younger and less wise. We may minimize the good things about ourselves and our positive attributes.
As neuroscientists know, our brain has a negativity bias. Our survival as a species is based partly upon our ability to scan the environment for danger so that we can avoid injury and destruction. There is scant survival value in relaxing and relishing the beauty within us and around us, although doing so may be part of an evolutionary process that enables us to move from surviving to thriving.
Self-compassion begins by realizing that we have a right to be happy. In fact, the founding fathers of the United States felt that the pursuit of happiness is so important that they enshrined it in the U.S. Constitution.
However, this doesn’t mean that happiness is an entitlement. Living a fulfilling life requires creation of the necessary foundation. It takes work and the right kind of attention. This includes living an ethical, connected life. It’s impossible to find inner peace and happiness if we’re oblivious to the needs of others and the world around us — or worse, if we’re harming people. Our narcissism not only damages others, but it is also destructive to ourselves as it constricts us to a small, isolated world.
Finding inner peace and happiness means cultivating compassion toward ourselves. This is easier said than done. Self-love and self-compassion are more than just being good to ourselves, such as soaking in a hot tub or buying nice things.
Self-compassion is an inner job. It has to do with how we hold ourselves, how we relate to our feelings. It means finding the strength and resilience to embrace the full range of our human emotions. It means tapping into inner resources that can meet our feelings with a gentle embrace rather than with judgment.
Being human means sometimes wrestling with uncomfortable emotions.
The next time you find yourself feeling sad, lonely, afraid, hurt, embarrassed, or some other distasteful feeling, you might try this: take a few gentle breaths and then notice how this feeling is living in your body right now. Is your bodily-felt sensation prickly, tight, heavy, jumpy, or …? See if you can allow the emotion and the bodily sensation connected with it to simply be there without judging the feeling or criticizing yourself for having it. Can you allow it to be there without being afraid of it and without feeling shame around it? Or simply notice the fear or shame, and maybe you can find a way to be gentle with that feeling too.
Compassion means accepting ourselves as we are. It means meeting our feelings with love and gentleness rather than trying to fix ourselves or get rid of them. It means being our own best friend.
It may sound strange, but being compassionate toward ourselves also serves others. Feeling more peace inside, we have more to offer. By becoming more familiar and gentle with our own feelings, we can extend compassionate attention toward others when they are feeling distressed or challenged.